What’s the difference Between TENS & EMS?

By Med-Fit UK Content Team  .  Last Updated Saturday, 10th September 2022

What is a Tens Machine?

A Transcutaneous Electrical Nerve Stimulation (TENS) is a non-invasive technique for pain relief for multiple conditions and injuries. Tens Machines are a small handheld device which is either connected via thin wires to adhesive pads (electrodes) or a wireless device that are connected to electrodes via Bluetooth.

The Electrodes that are connected to the Tens device via Bluetooth or wires transmit a low voltage electrical signal into your body – this type of electrical signal floods the nervous system and as a result reduces the ability to transmit pain signals to the brain.

Tens Units can be adjusted throughout treatment in terms of frequency and intensity to ensure these pain signals can be changed if necessary – depending on the severity of the injury or condition.

A single treatment with Tens Machines can be between 15-40 minutes, however, it really is up to the user as to how long they wish to use TENS for. Once the machine is switched on and the electrodes have been placed on the treatment area, you may feel a slight warm and tingling sensation.

The use of Tens machines have become a very popular method of treatment for specific conditions and injuries – this is due to it being a non-invasive form of treatment, additionally some forms of treatment can be addictive (drugs or other treatments), however Tens units and treatment is not addictive.

What are Ten’s devices used for?

Tens Machines are used for a wide range of conditions, injuries and maternity. These types of conditions or injuries include:

And many more.

TENS provides users short term pain relief whilst the device is being used, however the machines are not a cure for pain, condition or injury. 

What is an EMS unit?

Electrical Muscle Stimulation or normally known as EMS is a fitness technique and physical therapy that uses a similar treatment to TENS. EMS is very similar to TENS in the way the machine transmits electrical impulses through electrodes (self-adhesive pads) into the body, however EMS device electrodes are applied to key muscle groups – a common muscle group that EMS is regularly used on is the quadriceps after knee surgery.

The electrical impulse triggers a repeated contraction or a tightening of the muscles – these contractions can be frequent but short or long and sustained. Electrical impulses from a Tens Machine are far weaker than an EMS machine.

Many physical therapists recommend using EMS if their patients suffer from muscular pain, inflammation and to treat swelling. The machines can reduce muscle spasms and edema which can cause major muscle pains, loss of function and discomfort.

What is an EMS machine used for?

EMS devices are used for neuromuscular re-education or another way of putting this, a real jump-start for muscle contractions and relaxation for the muscles it stimulates. These machines are found in physical therapy and rehabilitation clinics, with many EMS units nowadays sold and designed for public use / at-home use and with helpful guides.

The repetition of the cycles brings about benefits of its own such as:

  • Increased Blood Flow
  • Assistance with Muscle Recovery and Growth
  • Reduced Inflammation

EMS devices are a great way to prevent atrophy in injured patients or perhaps to keep your muscles warmed up during long distance travelling.

Some users have been known to use EMS devices during workouts with the aim of turning their abdomen into six packs - check out our blog on How to get a Six pack

Are they both safe to use?

Both EMS and Tens Machine are known to be very safe for users, however some may have possible side effects and it’s mostly around the electrode duration of use. People with sensitive skin may require a sensitive skin electrode, rather than one that is not for sensitive skin – the reason would be around the possibility of the skin become irritated whilst the electrode is attached.

The other possible side effect would be from an EMS machine as the current is very strong compared to Tens Machines. Users could feel a burning sensation or shock; however, this is very rare.

If you have a possible heart condition – we would advise you to speak with a healthcare provider or therapist before using a Tens or EMS machine, the reason would be that it could interfere with:

  • Defibrillators
  • Pacemaker
  • Or other possible device linked with your heart.

Additionally, if you’re pregnant (early) and wish to use a Tens Machine during labour, we’d highly recommend speaking to your midwife or healthcare provider first.

How much do EMS & Tens Machines cost? 

EMS & Tens Machines are very affordable, it’s really just about picking the right one for you – whether it would be wired or wireless.